Woody Allen's professional film career basically spans my lifetime. His first directed from scratch film was TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, which is technically the second film on his Director List after WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? but that film was shot and directed by another, until Woody reworked and dubbed it to become his on crazy film.
But for me, in 1971 - Woody came out with BANANAS. Then next years was EVERY THING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK and then the next year came SLEEPER. My parents fell in love with these 3 Woody Allen films - and in my house, Woody kind of represented the kind of intellectual classic & foreign film loving geek that appreciated fine art, literature and music. He was held up as being my parent's KIND of person. Over the course of Woody's career we've seen him geek out with Humphrey Bogart in PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM... Have metaphysical & romantic romps with fictional characters in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO... I've had two romances in my life that literally felt quite a bit like both of the relationships in MANHATTAN... and I have never theatrically missed seeing a new Woody Allen film.
That said, when the press screening was set for 10am, on the day where I was going to be hosting a quadruple feature that would end at close to 4am, well... there was no question, I had to do it. So Yoko and I set out to check out a screening at the Violet Crown Cinema here in Austin, our first visit, and the film we found waiting for us is my fave Woody film since THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO.
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is a time travel fantasy. This is Time Travel in the way that Hendrik Willem Van Loon used it in his VAN LOON's LIVES, which is using the idea of Time Travel for its fanciful notions as opposed to using it as tech fetishry.
The film starts with Owen Wilson in the Woody part as a frustrated hack screenwriter that is pulling his hair out over doing what he really wants to do, which is to write his great novel. Owen's Gil is engaged to Rachel McAdams' Inez... a girl that he should frankly be wary of - as she doesn't seem to really "get" Gil, and has a Republican father that is absolutely culturally stunted. One night while Gil and Inez are sharing a happenstance meal & drinks with Michael Sheen's Paul - a know it all professorial snob that Gil can't really stand to be around. So Gil sends Inez off with Paul & his date to go dancing and he's just going to walk the wine buzz off and head back to the hotel. Only, Gil gets turned around on the twisty turny streets of Paris - and while taking a rest upon some steps in Paris, a vintage yellow magic carpet with four wheels pulls up - it's vintage denizens scoop him up and suddenly...
He slowly begins to realize... he's in Paris of the 1920's. He gathers this while talking with F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Fitzgerald as they're at a private affair being entertained by Cole Porter. This is Gil's dream. He'd give anything to live in Paris of the 20's - and by the time this first night is over, he has met and conversed with a young fiercely empowering Ernest Hemingway who has offered to introduce Gil to the legendary Gertrude Stein, who would look at his manuscript. Gil flips. Leaves the scene to go get his manuscript, quickly turns around to find out where to meet - only to find the bar that they were conversing in... has become a Coin Operated Laundry Store Front.
From this point on, the film becomes a bit like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND... this singular magical experience sets Gil on a personal journey that takes him further and further away from his wife to be, and shows Gil the void he has in his own life. He meets many historical figures, including one absent from history, a muse played by Marion Cotillard, Adriana. She's currently Pablo Picasso's mistress... but artist egos being what they are, she's soon pursued by Ernest Hemingway - and our dear Gil.
That's all I'll give you. There is travel that takes you to other periods of Paris, but how all this plays out - well it is something of a blessing to see it play out for you. By the time you're sitting with Owen as he's explaining his time traveling conundrum with surrealists like Dali & Bunuel... well... it is bliss.
This is a film that wallows in nostalgia for a period and time that is truly the stuff of fantasy.
Woody handles the switches of period with ease. Making it all effortlessly make sense to me. I so want to get in that car and go on these midnight outings in one of the most amazing cities in the world - which could only be enhanced by exploring the glory of it's even greater past.
Woody Allen understands the fantasy of time travel perhaps better than anyone that I've ever seen play with it. To simply go back and observe the atmosphere of the time, to have conversations with the giants of that era, to romance the women that gave that magical inspiration to the artists of the era... well it is something sublime. A film to dream along with and be enraptured by. The film plays like a great date.
I'm the sort of person that relishes the history of places. Being in the various studios where WIZARD OF OZ & THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD were shot, seeing the buildings that Porky Pig was chased through... It's why I collect things from the past. Holding my 1933 KING KONG smoke bomb - knowing that this carved and painted piece of wood once fell the mightiest creature from classic Hollywood... it's such a rush. Such a thrill. I look at the B&W film - and hold this bomb and I have a connection to Robert Armstrong, but oh how I'd love to get him drunk and hear his stories. Just to hear him speak and converse outside of the scripted dialogue I've spent a lifetime watching, that's the dream of Time Travel. The fantasy of Time Travel - and it is what Woody Allen understands most. I've always dreamt of simply time traveling to the screening of KING KONG at Graumann's Chinese Theater and sit behind the teenage trio of Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen and Forrest J Ackerman and then go have a post film snack and join the chatter about seeing KING KONG for the first time. To watch the stage show that happened before the film played. It's an impossible dream, but one that you can live out with the magic of cinema.
Woody Allen is one of our greatest geek filmmakers - and he does it in subtle ways that I love. This is amongst his best works in quite a long time. He's made a lot of strong films recently, but MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is the exact kind of romantic fantasy whimsy that made me fall in love with Woody back in the 70s and again through the 80s.
Do not miss this film. It has completely captured not only me, but my wife Yoko as well. We're over the moon for this one and can't wait for you to join me in this love affair with Paris throughout the ages...
So yeah, this is the film I wanted to celebrate our 50,000th article on AICN about. It's not one of the giant releases of the Summer, but it will most likely be the best.